Bigger doesn’t always mean better
Shazam! Fury of the Gods continues the tales of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teenager from Philadelphia that can turn into an adult superhero version of himself (portrayed by Zachary Levi) by uttering the word “Shazam”. Director David F. Sandberg, who started out his career by making short horror films that eventually led him to holding the reins of several Hollywood productions, is returning alongside screenwriter Henry Gayden and most of the cast from the first Shazam! (2019). While the former served as an introduction of the many characters and themes, the sequel aims at expanding its concept by picking up the story four years after the events of its predecessor. Billy’s family of foster siblings was gifted the Shazam powers as well, and this time the group of superheroes will need to balance their double lives while facing the godly threat of villains Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu), the daughters of Titan Atlas.
Produced by New Line Cinema, DC Studios and The Safran Company, the film was released by Warner Bros. Pictures on March 17, 2023. It opened to a lukewarm reception both by critics and fans, and terrible box office numbers that do not bode well for the future of this franchise. In anticipation of this summer’s The Flash, opening June 16, here’s a full review of Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
A huge barbecue… of half-cooked meat
Let’s be honest – Shazam! Fury of the Gods fails to recapture the magic of its predecessor. The most distinctive trait of the original 2019 film, which is also what made it so heartfelt and charming, was how personal the story was. The characters were few and well-shaped, and the entire first half of the movie was just a teenager coming to terms with something out of this world. It was fresh, fun, but most importantly, it worked.
This sequel starts off with a lot on its plate. Billy struggles to stand on his own, every member of his “Shazamily” slowly takes their own path, the villains follow their plan, the Wizard is still alive but kept prisoner. This sadly makes the plot unfocused, and the storylines have no option but to follow one of two paths – they either fall flat, or are left for dead. The structure leaves little to no surprises, which is ironic since one of the first movie’s major selling points was the fact it mocked the very same formula this sequel can’t stride away from. The plot occasionally forces some dynamics into the story that leave the viewer a little confused, especially in the finale. The resolution is abrupt and happens via a literal deus ex machina that makes the audience feel as if what they just watched had really no impact at all.
Credit where credit is due, the comedic tone lubricates the pacing a little. The jokes mostly work, although they feel stiffer if compared to the first Shazam!, which had a lot of ad-libbed lines. The problem here are the dramatic scenes. With so many new characters, so many things happening, and therefore so many crippled story arcs and plotlines, the drama ceases to be compelling and instead ends up feeling uninspired. Juggling comedy and drama sure is hard, but let’s not forget that a lot of films have succeeded at that, even in the superhero genre – Guardians of the Galaxy, anyone?
Underdeveloped characters saved (kind of) by decent performances
Now we’re getting into the most troublesome territory. As stated before, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is fueled by an impressive cast, and it dramatically increases the number of characters. This creates some issues in the plot and structure, but unfortunately, it’s an even bigger problem when characters are considered. There are simply too many, and it’s near impossible to give everyone a proper development. Let’s take a closer look and give some examples.
Zachary Levi’s performance is fine. He’s a gifted comedic actor who replicates what he did in the first Shazam!, and it mostly works. However, Asher Angel’s Billy Batson is almost 18 in this film, and he’s going through a lot of changes that have some repercussions on his personality. That would be perfectly fine… if Levi didn’t act as a 14-year-old still. Billy’s superhero persona can’t stop telling jokes and making a fool of himself, so that the viewer feels as if Levi and Angel were playing two totally different characters. Levi’s version of Billy starts becoming a parody of himself, a watered down, PG-13 version of Deadpool. Confusion doesn’t stop here – Billy’s older foster sister Mary is played by Grace Caroline Currey both as a human and as a superhero. That’s the only case in the cast, and as harsh as it may sound, Currey’s line delivery for either one feels straight out of a high school play. Lastly, Rachel Zegler gives it her all as Anthea, but hers is probably the worst written character of the film, switching sides randomly with no setup nor character arc whatsoever.
Moving on to more positive notes – Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy is once again a scene stealer, and by far the most interesting character. Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and Djimon Hounsou visibly have fun with their roles and are pretty entertaining to watch, despite the underdevelopment in their characters – the villains are evil because the script requires them to be, and the Wizard lacks the charisma and spookiness of the first film.
The great practical sets try to make up for the disappointing CGI
Diving into some more technical aspects, the cinematography, soundtrack and camera work all do their job pretty decently. Sure, it’s no Lord of the Rings (nor Raimi’s Spider-Man, for that matter), but it doesn’t demand nor pretend to be – it’s perfectly aligned with the mission of the film, and with its predecessor’s style. After all, it’s a comedy-action film, and the technical compartment serves its purpose. An effective aspect that may surprise the viewer in a positive way, is the care and attention that went into set-building. The Rock of Eternity in particular, i.e. the mystical cave that serves as the headquarters for Billy and his gang, is spectacular, and the way the teenagers transformed it into some kind of hideout cove is believable and amusing. Moreover, the character and costume design needs a shout-out – while the heroes are all pretty standard stuff, the villains’ costumes look good, and the design of the mythical creatures spawning from the Golden Apple are awesome.
There is a negative aspect, though, and that would be the visual effects. From this perspective, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is on par with some other superhero content released in the past two years. Despite tons of means, the film is a feast of shoddy CGI that often makes the graphic look like a PS3 videogame. The effects are kind of convincing whenever all the surroundings are created digitally, but as soon as they mix with actual people, the green screens are painfully evident, and the CG models lack the physicality required to balance out the live action components. One might let that slide if this was an indie production, but quite frankly it’s unacceptable for a $125 million blockbuster.
Taking all of this into consideration, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a huge step down from its predecessor, and an honest rating wouldn’t go beyond 2.5/5. It’s not a terrible movie, but a frustratingly mediocre one. It had a lot of potential and some cool ideas in the chamber, but it was all sacrificed in favor of an unjustified need to go bigger and flashier. Plus, the oversaturation of the superhero genre made the audience a lot more demanding to the new entries nowadays, and that doesn’t help either. Should you be looking for a movie to turn off your brain for a couple hours, you can stream this film on HBO Max. Mind you, though – it won’t turn into a better, smarter version of itself even if you scream “Shazam!” at the top of your lungs.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023) | Warner Bros. | Official Trailer
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|Federico was born on July 20, 1998, in Trieste, Italy. Film enthusiast for as long as he can remember, he graduated in Philosophy at the University of Turin. His lifelong dream is to become a storyteller, and he’s currently planning his next step to (hopefully!) make this dream come true.|